Our first year of living in rural Ontario has been truly special. I have had a sense of homecoming, of re-connecting more fully with nature. And, for me, that connection is the source of much wonder and joy.
So I put together a book, A year in the life of The House at Turtle Pond. A kind of journal, it seeks to capture our response to the newness of living through the turning of this first year, looking out over Cranberry Lake on the Rideau system in Southern Ontario, Canada.
It speaks to a deep connection with nature, the rhythm of the seasons and the interconnectedness of internal and external realities.
I wrote it first and foremost so as not to lose sight of the newness as the years pass and familiarity potentially dulls our awareness. But it has been lovely to find that at least a few people find in it something to feed the soul. It makes it even more worthwhile!
Below is a link to A year in the life of The House at Turtle Pond as it appears on the Blurb website. Here you can glance through a preview. If you happen to be interested in having a copy and live locally, please feel free to contact me direct. Blurb often offers discounts to the creator of a book, which makes it significantly more affordable.
By the way, it was our predecessors who named our wetland between the house and road Turtle Pond. And our neighbour noted that this was therefore The House at Turtle Pond, like The House at Pooh Corner. This seemed apt, especially when I came across this:
And by and by Christopher Robin came to the end of things, and he was silent, and he sat there, looking out over the world, just wishing it wouldn’t stop.
Our personal ‘Canada Day‘ falls a little early; we celebrated 8 years since we arrived in Canada as ‘landed immigrants’ on Sunday June 25 (of course, since then, we became Canadian Citizens in 2014).
In honour of the occasion we took in some history at Bellevue House, briefly home to Sir John A. MacDonald (Canada’s first Prime Minister), an unusual and rather impractical house built in the 1840s in the Italianate style. We were delighted that this visit included an exhibition of Indigenous Art in recognition that celebrating Confederation, particularly Canada 150, carries some discomfort about what it is we celebrate.
It was almost with trepidation that we took off for US WordCamp in Philadelphia at the end of November. In the wake of the Trump election victory, even before his inauguration and what has followed, US travel already seemed somehow less appealing.
Justice, equality and freedom of the press
In the event, I am really glad that we were there in that moment. It was a reminder of so much that is good in America. To stand beside the Liberty Bell was particularly poignant. To read of past success in the struggle against injustice and inequality was a heartening reminder that there always have been and still are many who will fight for the best of what it is to be human.
We had a day together in which to explore. The Liberty Bell was a ‘must see’. Benjamin Franklin’s printing press resonated well with our attendance at WCUS. After all, WordPress specifically seeks to democratize publishing. Franklin’s grandson’s statement on the freedom of the press is as relevant now as it as ever been.
We mooched around the historic area, delighting in Elfreth’s Alley, one of the oldest streets in North America, where some houses date back to the 1720s. Later, we ambled through the very elegant Society Hill.
The weird, the wonderful and the truly magical
As we wandered, we chanced on the fabulous Center for Art in Wood, as well as a weird and wonderful exhibition of pipes. This latter was somewhat outside our normal sphere of interest, but absolutely amazing glass work!
All the while, we were heading towards Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens. These are indeed magical, both for the immersive visual experience and the sense of art as driver for community regeneration. Isaiah Zagar is a mosaic artist on a huge scale, reminiscent of Gaudi but drawing on many other influences, in particular Folk Art. Started in 1994, the Magic Gardens form a hub for the regeneration of the South Street area of Philadelphia; Zagar’s first mosaics in the area go back to the 1960s.
We even brought our own small piece of Zagar’s work home with us. He titled it ‘Full Moon’, but we also make an association to the Blue Moon. Those of you who know our history will remember that this has a very personal significance for us!
The perfect end to a perfect day, Little Fish was one of the best fish restaurants we’ve ever discovered!
The next few days were conference days. In the evenings, though, we made the most of the seasonal spirit with a trip to the Christmas market and to Macy’s Christmas light show.
Passion, democratization, accessibility and community
WCUS itself was a fascinating experience for someone who functions at the edge of the WordPress community. What stays with me is the depth of commitment to making WordPress accessible to all. In 2016 there were 115 WordCamps in 41 countries, with close to 90% of the costs (though not the travel) covered by sponsors.
WordPress is available in 50 languages and there is a strong push for internationalization and accessibility. All this exists in the context of a code-base written by volunteers (Paul has ‘core commits’ in a number of WordPress releases).
The third day of the conference was ‘Contributor Day’.Hundreds of people gave a full day of their time to coding, bug fix, testing, review, documentation, translation and more. In five years, the WordPress market share has grown from 13% to 27% of the web and this effort is what underpins it. What a fantastic model for social co-operation!
While Paul focused on the more technical sessions and networking, I tapped into the wider content. Topics included ‘Version Control Your Life’, ‘Five Newsroom Tips for Better Website Content’, ‘Care and Feeding of Your Passion’, as well as a really helpful session on releasing a WordPress product.
‘Darth Vader wins over Yoda every time!’
Perhaps most pertinent to world events was a great talk on ‘The Dark Side of Democratization’. It seems that content that elicits emotional response is what goes viral, particularly if it arouses anger (hence the headline quote!). Therefore we all need to cultivate an ability to evaluate both our emotional response to content and the ‘facts’ in a post-truth world. An interesting suggestion was the importance of monitoring ‘news’ from sources that reflect the people who don’t think like you, engaging with understanding and tolerance, not judgement.
The ‘corridor stream’ is always a key element of any WordCamp and the after-party is a fun extension of this. In this case, we partied with dinosaurs at the Academy of Natural Sciences, making some useful contacts while were were about it!
A Sunday stroll
While Paul was delving into core code, I made a solo Philly foray. The Barnes Foundation, established by Albert C. Barnes in 1922 to “promote the advancement of education and the appreciation of the fine arts and horticulture”, houses a wonderful collection displayed in a quite unique style. The Museum of Art would definitely have been overload, though I did stand on the famous steps. Instead, I wandered on up the Benjamin Franklin Parkway behind the museum to the elegant Lemon Hill Mansion, all decked out for Christmas and picturesque Boathouse Row, enjoying the mild December sunshine.
Travel wasn’t top of our list in 2016. With the move to rural life there was both too much to do and too much uncertainty about timing really to plan a proper ‘vacation’. Indeed, our summer holiday was, very intentionally, ‘cottage time’ in our new home.
Back at the start of the year, though, I saw a certain tiredness in Paul and, recognizing the long-haul ahead, took the unusual step for us of planning a week away with a focus on doing very little.
Escape into a Cuban Spring
Rum-filled coconut by the pool
Ready to dive . . .
Sugar cane and rum (fresh Pina Colada is a whole different experience!); scuba-diving blessed by the appearance of dolphins for Paul while I snorkeled the reef; lots of much needed doing nothing round the pool, interspersed with dance classes, tai-chi and water volleyball; a little exploring with glimpses of plantations, mangroves, a crocodile farm and the decaying colonial grandeur of Ciego De Avila and Moron; and, always, the rhythms – rumba, salsa, cha-cha . . .
Ciego De Avila
Ciego De Avila
Ciego De Avila
Ciego De Avila
Ciego De Avila
Honestly, I’m not sure whether or not we will go back to Cuba. There is genuinely a great sense of welcome, even in a somewhat anodyne resort area. But there is also a feeling of smoke and mirrors; things are not entirely what they seem, a lot of the time you see what you are supposed to see, and there are aspects of the Cuban regime and culture that I find difficult and unsettling. We are not very good at ‘resorts’, and, though ours was very good of its kind, that may have influenced my perceptions. Maybe if we go back to ‘travel’, really to see the country rather than laze . . . but I feel there may be other places that call to me more strongly.
Yesterday we returned from three magical days outside time in Wakefield, just north of Ottawa on the edge of Gatineau Park; days in which to wonder at the way winter transforms the landscape.
‘A Modern Indigenous Master’
First, though, we took in some magic of a different kind; a fabulous retrospective of the work of Alex Janvier, one of Canada’s most acclaimed contemporary artists, at the National Gallery.
As an indigenous artist who himself was torn from his family and culture and sent to a reidential school at age eight, some of Janvier’s work references very directly the suffering experienced by indigenous people in Canada. At times it is, quite rightly and very movingly, political and outraged. But there is also huge vitality, spirituality and joy. I felt with many of his works that I could sit and be with just one piece for a long time and keep finding new elements and insights.
Winter – transformation and meditation
Our destination was Wakefield Mill, a lovely converted 19th-century flour mill on the banks of the Gatineau River, surrounded by 24 acres of forest. We arrived the day after a minor ice-storm; the roads had been cleared and the journey was fine, but, without significant subsequent snow-fall, even the day after we arrived was exceptionally icy and treacherous. Despite this, we managed to try out our new snow-shoes on a short trail behind Wakefield’s covered bridge.
Wakefield in winter
I find the light and sparkle of snow, the dampened sound cut through with the crunch of a crisp crust cracking underfoot, the distorted forms of rocks and trees, the transformation of running water into constantly changing sculptures, entrancing.
This is the best of meditations; I am effortlessly present, ‘just being’. For me, winter makes it easy to access the child’s wonder and joy.
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A second outing before we started for home saw us climbing fairly steeply up through woods to a peak above the village where we could look out across the white expanse below – stunning! We looped back down a gentler trail, the first folks through after six inches or so of snow the day before.
Of course, every homecoming is also a gift living here; today we were gifted Alice in winter pastels . . . (Alice is the first island we see as we look out across Cranberry Lake!).